Attorney General

Mukasey’s High Court Argument Said to Be Dry, to the Point and Loud in Tone


Attorney General Michael Mukasey appeared before the U.S. Supreme Court for the first time in his professional life yesterday, restoring a tradition that the Justice Department’s top lawyer participate in at least one oral argument.

Although the attorney general had confessed he was nervous about the argument, he did not appear that way, the New York Times reports. Many publications remarked on Mukasey’s short answers the justices’ questions or his dry argument style. The New York Times described his answers as “characteristically dry and to the point”; Legal Times said they were “brief, to the point, and seemed to hit the right notes”; while the Washington Post reported that Mukasey spoke in a “clipped, concise and notably loud tone.”

Mukasey was the first attorney general since Janet Reno to appear before the court.

Appearing in a rented morning coat, Mukasey sought to reinstate an explosives conviction against terrorist Ahmed Ressam, convicted in a plot to bomb the Los Angeles airport. Mukasey argued there did not need to be a link between explosives found in Ressam’s car and a false customs declaration he made for him to be convicted of carrying an explosive during the commission of a felony.

Justice Antonin Scalia suggested that under Mukasey’s argument, a person who transports a can of gasoline—which could be used as an explosive—could be prosecuted for a serious felony if he carried it while driving to mail a false tax return. Mukasey responded that prosecutors would use their discretion in such cases and they should have the authority to make the call.

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